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Authors: Heather Balog

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BOOK: The Dead of Summer
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Lindy kicked me in my calf, and when I glanced at her, she rolled her eyes. “Stop staring,” she hissed.

I didn’t have to time to respond as she remarked in a sugary voice, “My, my Carson. You certainly are strong.”

Carson didn’t even seem to hear what she had said. “I’ve only been here for a few weeks, though,” he said to me. “We just moved into town right after school ended so my dad didn’t think it made sense enrolling me in school until the summer was over.” Colt was pulling at the leash a bit, so Carson unlatched it from his collar, allowing Colt to roam happily. “No squirrels, buddy,” he warned. “And no girls, either.”

I was about to ask him what grade he was going to be in in the fall, when Lindy swooped in for the kill.

“Oh, so you’ll be at Novella High, too?” she asked, her voice as smooth as butter. She was literally wedging herself in between me and Carson and flirtatiously touching his arm. I wanted to push her in the marsh and tell her to shut her big fat trap or something, but, of course, I kept my mouth and my hands to myself as all dutiful Lindy followers do.

He stared at Lindy’s fingers as they snaked their way up the inside of his bicep, curling around and linking her arm in his. “Yeah. I’ll be a senior next year. Or in the fall, rather.” He didn’t mention her abuse of his personal space though, much to my dismay. He was probably used to girls throwing themselves at him.

“Oh, wow, how exciting!” Lindy replied in the enthusiastic tone she usually reserved for teachers and members of the football team. “I’m going to be a sophomore next year, which is also
so
fun, but a senior. . .wow that’s
so
awesome!”

I had to keep my gag reflex in check as Lindy continued to gush about the benefits of going to Novella High. It almost sounded like she was quoting from a real estate pamphlet that urged parents to move to Novella just for the benefit of having a student at our prestigious school.

“Are you a sophomore, too?” Carson interrupted Lindy and turned to me. Her hands slid from his arm. . .probably in shock.

I felt lightheaded, almost unwilling to answer as I squeaked out, “Yes.”

“Oh,” Carson said. “For some reason, I thought you were older.”


I’m
going to be sixteen in November,” Lindy informed him. “I’m having a huge sweet sixteen party on the riverboat. There’s going to be a band and a DJ and I’m going to have a full court of attendants. We’re having lobster tails, caviar and a chocolate fountain.”

Lindy yammered on about her sweet sixteen party and my eyes started to glaze over. She had been talking about it for months: the food, the venue, the trips to Charleston to have her dress altered. It was one of Mrs. Lincoln’s pet projects, except, with this one, she could pretend she was a good mama in the process. For my sweet sixteen in September, I was probably going to get an old melted candle stuck in a cupcake.

“You should come to my party.”

Carson didn’t answer as he stepped away from her and whistled for Colt, who was bounding along happily far ahead of us, near the edge of the marsh. “Don’t you dare go near the road, you bad dog,” Carson yelled as the town came into view. Colt halted in his tracks and then turned to us, looking properly admonished as he trotted back to his master.

“He’s a really good dog in the woods and on trails and usually listens. I’m super cautious around roads, though. Let him out near the street and all bets are off,” Carson said as he snapped the leash back on the dog. “He definitely fits the stereotype about dogs chasing cars. He’s like,
hey come back and play with me!
” Carson used a cartoon-ish voice, pretending to be Colt speaking.

I practically snorted through my nose, but at the last second, I was able to hold that in check and offer a much more ladylike titter of a response.

“Oh, Carson, you’re so funny,” Lindy giggled, practically throwing herself at him. She wrapped her talons around his arm once again.

“Uh, yeah,” Carson replied, detaching Lindy’s fingers from his forearm. He pointed toward the house across the street. “Well, that’s me.”

He was pointing to a small, tidy-looking brick ranch house, devoid of any landscaping out front other than a half-dead bush near the peeling red front door. There was no car in the driveway, but what appeared to be an ancient Harley Davidson motorcycle near the garage door. The grass was not overgrown or anything like that, but you could tell it wasn’t very well cared for, brown and yellow and patchy in spots. There was nothing terrible about the house, but nothing that screamed out,
home
, either.

But, who was I to judge? My house was just as small, the outside overgrown with grass, the weeds poking through the sidewalk cracks, growing at exponential rates. One of our shutters hung from the siding, black paint flecking off. It would rattle against the house if we got as much as a light breeze. Mama had once asked me to go next door and ask the college kid that lived there if he would cut our grass for ten dollars. He had looked at me like I was an alien and laughed at the pathetic amount. Needless to say, I was the one who ended up cutting the grass while Mama nervously nibbled at her fingernails, watching me from the window. She was scared I was going to cut my foot off. We didn’t have flowers planted or anything either, because then my mama would have to take care of them. Or I would have to at least.

I saw Lindy wrinkle up her button nose as she inspected the house from a distance. I could understand why she would scoff at my house that never seemed to get better, but Carson’s family had just moved here less than a month ago, so Lindy needed to cut him some slack. I urged her with my eyes to not say a word.

“Nice house,” she said with sarcasm that hopefully only I could detect.

“Not really,” Carson said. “It’s pretty run down on the inside, but we’re doing our best to fix it up. It’s gonna definitely take most of the summer. For now, it’s livable; it’s not dirty or anything inside. The outside, however. . .well, the previous owner wasn’t exactly meticulous about the grass and stuff like that.”

“Well,” Lindy gushed as she leaned forward, giving Carson an eyeful of her cleavage. “I am more than happy to help you or your mama with any projects you might have.”

I scowled at her. She was definitely batting her eyelashes now.

“Um, yeah—” Carson mumbled. “We’ve got to go. Come on, Colt.” He offered us a halfhearted wave as he quickly dashed across the street and headed around the back of his house, Colt hot on his heels. Lindy and I stared after him. Probably longer than necessary. Then Lindy turned and pulled her cell phone out of the back pocket of her way too tight shorts.

It was my turn to be brutal. I kicked the edge of Lindy’s tennis shoe; lightly of course, not like when she would kick me. Once she had kicked so hard she left a dent in my shin that I still have to this very day.

But of course Lindy didn’t see it that way as she stopped dialing and whirled around to face me. “What the hell are you doing?” Then, she slapped the side of my face. Not hard, but a slap just the same.

I rubbed my cheek. It was already hot to the touch. “What the hell are
you
doing, Lindy?”

“You kicked me first,” she growled as she followed suit and rubbed her own foot, which, I might add, had been well padded in her sneaker. A lot more padded than my face had been.

“That’s not what I am talking about and you know it,” I replied.

“What?” Lindy continued to feign innocence.

“That act back there with Carson. Why did you start flirting with him?”

“What?” Lindy asked in a high-pitched voice. “A girl can’t flirt with a boy she finds attractive?” She swirled her hips as she wandered in front of me, tucking her cell phone back in her pocket and looking over her shoulder seductively as if she was still flirting with Carson. Fortunately, he was already out of sight.

I dashed in front of her and stood with my hands on my pudgy hips. “You were not attracted to him at first and you know it. He’s not even your type.” Lindy preferred clean-cut rich boys to rugged types like Carson. “You weren’t interested in him till he started flirting with me. Admit it!”

Lindy rolled her eyes. “Oh please, Kennedy, he wasn’t flirting with
you
. Boys don’t flirt with you.” She patted my arm sympathetically. Cocking her head to the side she said, “But, if you’d like to start an exercise program with me, maybe by September you’ll be in better shape and a boy might just find you attractive. Maybe even Carson. Imagine that—a senior as your first boyfriend.”

I was seething, literally seeing spots of red as I spun on my heel and brushed past my so-called best friend. She couldn’t just let me have one guy first. They all had to go through her as if I was only allowed Lindy-approved leftovers. And why did she constantly have to bring up my weight? As if I didn’t feel bad enough about it.

“Not that way,” she growled, grabbing my arm and tugging me toward the sidewalk. “There is no way I’m tromping through that marsh again. My sneakers are ruined.” She pouted as she inspected her feet and then dug out her cell phone again. “I’ll have David pick us up—”

“I’m not going back to your house. I’m going to the library,” I mumbled as I headed off toward my favorite place in town, the only place I could possibly expect to think. It was also the only place Lindy wouldn’t follow me. She claimed to be allergic to the dust in our stuffy old library, but I think the truth was, Lindy hated to read. She hated anything that had to do with using her brain in any manner that wasn’t manipulative or devious. She always copied my homework, and when we weren’t in the same class, she would audaciously flirt with whatever unsuspecting fool she could trick into doing her work. Which was most of them. Lindy had no shame in it, either. One time I had brought it up, like, what was she going to do when she had to get along in the real world when people didn’t do your work for you? She had rolled her eyes as if I were the dumbest person on the planet. Then she explained that for a price, you could buy anything.

“But your bike is at my house,” Lindy pointed out with a slight whine to her voice. “And it’s only three o’clock!”

For a second, I felt bad. I knew Lindy hated to be alone in her big old house, waiting for her parents to come home and ultimately rush back out again for whatever fundraiser or event they were attending that night. Maria usually left before three o’clock so she could take care of her own children, so she probably wasn’t even there to entertain Lindy.

“I’ll get it tomorrow,” I called over my shoulder in a gentler voice. I dashed away from Lindy before she could somehow trap me into to staying with her for the rest of the day. I would be a better friend tomorrow. . .when I wasn’t furious with her.

THREE

I pushed through the double doors of the library and dust motes fluttered in the air, captured in the late afternoon light that flooded into the small building with my entrance. Our library was minuscule, only about twenty or thirty stacks of books in it, but by God, we had the most eclectic collection of novels on this side of the Mississippi. No big box book store reads for us at the Novella Public Library. We had books written by eighteenth century princes and books penned by prisoners of war during the Civil War, mixed in with tales of fantasy worlds and baseball dreams coming true. Every time I stepped into the library, I felt like the books on the shelves had magically changed since the previous visit. Running my hands lovingly along the spines, I would choose the latest story to emerge myself in before bringing it over to Marnie, the librarian.

Marnie was a girl that I like to think was a lot like I had been at one time. Actually, she wasn’t a girl, she had to be much older, like thirty or something. Marnie wore stretched out-of-shape, over-sized knit cardigan sweaters that were full of cat hair, in July. Her hair was always in a messy bun, her shirt buttoned wrong and her spectacles askew on her face. She was one hot mess, but she knew her way around books. And she was a sweet, nice person. She was probably even a little bit pretty under there. Too bad she never had a Lindy in her life to clean her up and make her real pretty and popular. Part of me always wanted to take her under my own wing and clean her up, but I knew I was not Lindy, so that wouldn’t bode very well for Marnie. I definitely couldn’t work the magic that Lindy did. Being friends with Lindy and
being
Lindy were two different things. I wasn’t stupid.

Plus, all that really mattered was that I wasn’t going to end up like her, alone in a library looking pathetic and vulnerable. I had Lindy to turn my life around.

Marnie waved to me, not even lifting her eyes from the book she was reading while nibbling absentmindedly on a carrot. I saw a plate of ranch sauce sitting next to her elbow and looked away before I had the urge to dip my finger in it. I was going to try not to eat so much crap. Maybe Lindy would stop pestering me about being fat if I shed a few unwanted pounds.

I headed off into the stacks to pick out my latest treasures. I was determined to read everything in the library at least once—I was up to the letter G. I stopped right in front of the book I had last read. I plucked out the next few books and thumbed through. Usually it didn’t matter what they were about, I was planning to read them anyway. But today, a true crime novel about a mobster and an anthology chocked with dog sledding stories was not what I was craving for my book fix.

Scanning the next few shelves, I spied a cover with a bare-chested male ripping the bodice off of a big-busted woman who was collapsed in his arms. Glancing around, I pulled the book off the shelf and quickly skimmed the synopsis, my pulse quickening as I read. My interaction with Carson had me looking for a little more romantic and lighthearted fare than my normal reading.
You never know when you’re going to need tips on how to kiss or flirt, right?

I casually tucked the book in between the dog sled anthology and the mob novel, and wandered over to Marnie’s desk where I dumped the stack of books, startling her. She raised a fuzzy eyebrow at me in reproach. I cringed, wishing she would find a pair of tweezers and a mirror.

BOOK: The Dead of Summer
8.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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